News (USA)

Poll: Christians rank their own religious freedom as most important than others

“There’s supposed to be equal protection under the law — that’s what the Constitution says,” he said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re doing something wrong.”

Public discussion about religious freedom in 2015 focused largely on demands for government accommodation for objectors to same-sex marriage, which became legal nationwide in June. The debate played out most dramatically in the conflict over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and in the case of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who spent five days in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Those who oppose steps to accommodate religious objections to same-sex marriage see such exemptions as an attempt to undermine newly won rights for gays and lesbians.

But advocates for broad exemptions, including U.S. Roman Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist leaders, say the requests are in line with the longstanding American tradition of protecting individual conscience.

Greg Scott of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian public interest law firm, said a focus on protecting Christians right now “makes sense in that Christians today are facing mounting threats to their religious liberty by acts of state officials and bureaucrats.” AP-NORC polls have found dwindling confidence in the government’s defense of religious liberty, with 75 percent in 2011 saying the government was doing a good job, compared with 55 percent who said so this month.

In the latest survey, eight in 10 Americans said it was very or extremely important for people like themselves to be allowed to practice their religion freely.

But Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm that takes clients of all faiths, said “people may not realize you cannot have a system where there’s one rule for one group and another rule for a different group you don’t like.”

“No religion is an island,” Rassbach said. “If somebody else’s religion is being limited by the government, yours is liable to be limited in the same way. Even if you only care about your own particular group, you should care about other groups, too, because that’s the way the law works.”

The AP-NORC poll of 1,042 adults was conducted online and by phone using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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